Kids Corner


Mathaa Tekna:
Bowing Before The Guru





A young woman walks into a low-ceilinged room. She pauses to shift the baby wiggling on her hip, then glides forward on the carpeted path.  She passes congregants seated cross-legged on the ground to her left and right, staring at a spot in the front of the room.

Many of the men are in dress shirts in muted shades, but a few boldly colored turbans and bright orange handkerchiefs stamped “Manhattan Sikh Association” sprinkle some heads. The women, many of whom are seated on the right, alternate between traditional wear and the jeans-t-shirt combination with a scarf draped over their heads.

In front of the room stands a low stage, and a woman sits atop it, reading from a book that is shrouded in a beautiful, intricately ornamented deep sky blue cloth. Its design is mirrored in tasseled burgundy velvet suspended above the stage.

The young mother clasps her hands together, a prayer passing silently from her lips. She hesitates, shuffles her baby around to face the stage, and then drops to her knees in prostration. As her forehead touches the floor, she brings her child’s face to the ground as well, much to his dismay. He bursts into tears, not realizing that he’s just received one of his first lessons in Sikh practice, one he’ll continue to observe for years to come.

This bowing is called mathaa tekna.

The focus of the devotion through this act is the Guru Granth Sahib, the Sikh holy scripture.

The Guru Granth Sahib is much more than a book, though; it is considered the 11th and final Guru, after the 10 human Gurus or spiritual teachers, in Sikh history, and it is treated with as much respect and reverence as a living Guru.

And on this rainy Thursday night at the Manhattan Sikh Association center, the woman, her child, and the entire congregation have gathered for a service to do just that - to express their devotion to and meditate on the spiritual content of this scripture.

The association holds monthly services, called divans, at their Midtown location, 104 East 30th Street in Manhattan (New York, U.S.A.).

At other Sikh gurdwaras, these divans happen more often, but the center is still new, meant to fill the gap for young local professionals in the city core. The association has been around for three years, but this new center has only been open for a little over a year.

The service takes place in the building’s long basement hall. The walls and ceiling are a blinding white, not bothered with ornaments or pictures. The only object of attention, the only object worth attention, is the Guru Granth Sahib, perched above and in front of the devotees. The beautiful colored linens that adorn it contrast sharply with the white sheets that cover the back wall, from which a mirror peeps through.

The first mathaa tekna is performed as soon as devotees enter the gurdwara. They drop some dollar bills on the spread in front of them - these will later go into maintaining the center - and clasp their hands together. As they close their eyes, whispering words of gratitude and prayer, they slowly bend down and touch their foreheads to the ground - a sign of ultimate submission and humility to the word of God.

The white sheets covering the blood red carpets bundle under their knees, the steel bracelets on their right arms graze the floor, and seconds in the real world become minutes in the spiritual one as private words pass from devotee to his Lord. Then, one final stand, one final touching of hands, a nod to fellow believers, and the obeisance is done.

The bowing will be repeated several times throughout the program - twice between singing the hymns and reciting passages from the Guru Granth Sahib and once as the scripture is being taken back to its separate room.

Simran Singh, who read aloud from the scripture during the procession, says the root of the mathaa tekna comes from the way Sikhs view the Guru Granth Sahib. The word for the service, divan, was originally used to describe a royal court, and the way the gurdwara is arranged replicates that setting in many ways.

“Bowing before the scripture indicates a recognition of the Guru as a royal sovereign,” says Simran. Thus, he says, the raised placement of the Guru Granth Sahib, its lavish wrapping, and the waving of a fly-whisk or chaur, over the scripture when it is not being read.

As the service comes to a close, the man waving the chaur closes the Guru Granth Sahib, covers it in a white cloth, ornaments it with the wraps, and carries it out of the room on his head. As he passes, congregants drop to the ground in a wave, sending their last respects of the day to their holy Guru with their final mathaa tekna.


[Courtesy: Religio. Edited for]

March 11, 2012 

Conversation about this article

1: R. Singh (Canada), March 11, 2012, 8:18 AM.

Guru Granth is not the 11th Guru but the foremost: the manifest Word/ wisdom of the Guru of Gurus - Akal Purukh. Guru Arjan would not even seat himself at par, out of respect for it.

2: Baldev Singh (Bradford, United Kingdom), March 11, 2012, 12:59 PM.

To get on your knees and bow before something that contains the word 'TRUTH' 5999 times and embodies it, is greater than, and makes redundant, bowing before anyone and anything else.

3: Ravinder Singh (Mumbai, India), March 12, 2012, 9:08 AM.

Guru Gobind Singh ordained Guru Granth Sahib as the eternal shabad Guru. The Word in it is divinely inspired. A Sikh bowing to Guru Granth surrenders his.her ego and accepts the wisdom of the Word.

4: Ajit Singh Batra (Pennsville, New Jersey, U.S.A..), March 13, 2012, 12:25 PM.

We bow before Guru Granth Sahib because it is our Guru. As well, our belief is: "gur parmaishar hai bhee hog", that is, the Guru is identified with God [GGS:864]. Moreover, the glory of Sikhism is its universality, it respects diversity as manifestation of the One.

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